Friday, November 11, 2016

The First Day after Doom

I want to tell you about that black day...I don't know who will care to read it. Really I'm only writing this so I can remind myself what darkness feels like and how it should be met.

Election day November 8th 2016...after 9:30pm it was clear to me that my biggest fear was spirally toward reality. We packed up our kids from the party that was meant to be victorious and we went home. After buckling the kids, before I climbed into the drivers seat, I turned to my husband and said "I can't breathe...I can't" and he said "You have to...just get home...BREATHE. Breathe."

When we got home I made a point to not turn on the tv and I tried to quickly get the kids ready for bed when a wave of illness pummeled me and I handed them off to my husband so I could lie down. He said he'd read them stories but when all I could hear coming from the room was Margot singing songs, I knew John was transfixed on his phone, and my stomach knew exactly why...and I got up and made a B-line for the toilet and out of my mouth fell the pits of despair, not once, not twice but four times. If you know anything about me...you know that one of my biggest fears in vomit.  I have magical abilities to suppress vomit. But those abilities failed me this night. That is how upset I was. And I sobbed. Gunnar was so concerned he came running to me and brought me water and a towel and a much needed hug...and I sobbed some more.

My husbands silence was deafening. He didn't want to tell me what he knew.
Donald Trump would be our next president.

I went to bed around midnight and tossed and turned with my mind racing for nearly four hours. When my daughter woke at 5am I was comforted in knowing I could cuddle with her and with her in my arms we both would feel safe for a while, and what turned into a long while as she slept in my arms until her Brother woke at 8:30am.

Gunnar's first question when he came into my bedroom was "Who's the president?" And I didn't expect to but I burst into tears..."its Trump...I'm sorry baby." And Gunnar grieved briefly with some tears in his eyes and asked if he could go to the White House so he could tell Trump to stop being mean to everybody. He said "lots of people are sad, huh mommy?" And I explained that beyond sad, many were frightened. And then a light clicked on and he said "then we must give them courage." He was applying the knowledge he acquired over the weekend when we took him to the Symphony and the conductor talked about what makes someone a super hero, they must have courage.

I told him I loved that idea and I had a thought about sharing gratitude with people and Gunnar took it a step further by suggesting we color cards to hand out to people. So we made cards that said "courage, love, gratitude...pass it on." We (Margot, Gunnar and I) filled in the hearts and made art.


When we finished I checked my phone and noticed a FB message from a friend asking for my telephone number.  The introvert in me, the one who hates talking on the phone paused for a moment, but only a moment. That's when I spied my Stronger Together button and I realized my comfort holds no place in this new world fueled by capitalizing on others fears. I gave her my number and encouraged her to call me. As I backed out of the message app I fell onto facebook where a friend had posted Hillary's Live concession speech. I hadn't turned on the news or watched any of the speeches...my heart couldn't take it. But in that moment I stayed transfixed on her...how can she stand there with such grace? I wept audibly at “And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” 
At this open sadness both kids crawled into my lap to comfort me. My cat Sven even joined in and licked my forehead. Their compassion humbled me...and at that moment I received a call from my friend who lives in the US with her husband and a daughter the same age as Margot. She is not a citizen, and she is rightfully terrified. I don't know if I said anything other than "I know...I'm Sorry" throughout our five minute conversation where she described her heartbreaking morning. She wept as she told me about conversations she had with a man of color who couldn't understand her fears as an immigrant. I wept too. I had no words of comfort...the only thing I mustered up was "I'm so glad you reached out to me...I promise to keep fighting for you and your family." My fears, my frustrations are nothing compared to those who fear for their homes and their livelihoods. After hanging up I took another moment to weep and then I shook it off.  "Now, now, now we have to get to work!"

"YES!" Gunnar shouted "Lets get to work! We have to spread Love!!!" His enthusiasm was almost irritating... but I didn't address it... I just wasn't there yet. He was resolved. I was still dragging myself out the door when I noticed my Women Together pin lying on the table. I decided that would be part of my armor today and I pinned it on and headed outside.

The air was different. Silent. As I loaded the kids into the car a middle aged woman walked slowly down the sidewalk behind me...I wanted to engage with her but I didn't have the courage yet. I could see just by her demeanor that she was feeling the same as me.

"Where should we go first Gunnar?"

"To the Library to Thank Ms. Jessie"

Ok that felt like a good place to start.

Only 5 blocks from my home I witnessed my first post-election traumatic sight. A run down mini-van bedecked in TRUMP WINS!! Spray painted all over the car and the passenger was dragging a large American flag out the window and shouting "We're building a WALL!!!" He was driving eratically and I did my best to steer clear.

It was then that I realized I had once again forgotten to eat and hadn't fed the kids...so we went through the Starbucks drive thru and Gunnar gave his first courage card to the barista in the window. "Thank you for making us lunch" he said.  I could tell she had guarded emotions but as she read the card she cupped her hand around her mouth and I could see her choke back tears. Her head scarf told me all I needed to know about how she felt about the results of the election and where those emotions were coming from. I said nothing...Again, I had no words but I looked in her eyes and held my look until I knew she understood what I meant..."I see you. I'm sad too. I'll fight for you."

As we turned onto a residential street I spotted a postal worker. I pulled over and asked Gunnar if he wanted to give her a card. "YES!" We crossed the street and accidentally startled her when we approached. Her eyes were dull, tired, fearful.

"Thank you for working so hard every day!" Gunnar said with a sweet sincerity I'd never heard before.

She picked up the card and held it to her chest and her eyes showed a sparkle as she said "Thank you. THANK YOU!" As she smiled I noticed her teeth were bleeding...I wondered what that was about...could she have experienced violent post-Trump election racism already today? I wish I would have asked how she was...but I wasn't ready. I'm not used to making overt conversation with strangers like this. I hope our card was enough until I am....and I promise I will be. I have to be.

When we arrived at the library I noticed how quiet it was. Ms. Jessie clearly wasn't working that day. But the kids asked to play and I allowed them to for a few moments. When Gunnar spied a security guard he ran to give him one of the cards...but this time he was too shy to say anything. The security guard didn't seem to care...he just said "ok" and shoved the card in his pocket. I secretly judged him in that moment...I decided he was either an apathetic American or a Trump voter.  I hate that my mind does this from time to time...it snaps, judges and separates. This is something I MUST overcome. I strive to learn how to always see humanity with open thoughts and compassion. Sometimes I find ways to do this, but I haven't been consistent.

As my children played a librarian came by and commented on Gunnar's hat. As he walked away I encouraged Gunnar to follow him with a courage card. I could hear him say from a distance "thank you for making me smile" and the worker was taken back by the gesture and looked over to me and said "Wow! So cool! I'm going to put this up in my office little man! Thank you! So cool!" And somehow that gesture was enough to strike up a conversation about our love for that library. He said it was odd how quiet it was today and I said "I think it has something to do with the results of last night"

"Oh yeah. That was heartbreaking. I really wanted her to win. I guess people are pretty sad today. But the good news is he can't touch this library...he can't touch the kids."

Something about that didn't ring true to me. But I smiled and said "I hope you're right." It was then that I decided I needed a real hug. I contacted a dear friend to see if she was home and if we could swing by for a hug. Thankfully she was up for it.

We both burst into tears as soon as I walked in the door.  Unlike me, she is fighting with the knowledge that close family members voted for Trump. Rightfully so, she felt betrayed and struggled with the thoughts of wanting them to be punished for their actions.  I cannot imagine having to look a loved one in the face knowing that they support a misogynist, racist, bigot.  Thankfully, my immediate family are all strong Hillary supporters. We mourned together, and shared our fears while our children played. At one moment her daughter rushed downstairs and said "Mommy, Gunnar says there are going to be guns in schools" and my heart sank as I realized he had overheard what I shouted at my husband in a panic a few days before the election. We reassured them both that its possible that could happen in other states, but not here, not in Illinois, they are safe. After a while we all hugged and said goodbye.

A friend contacted me and asked if we'd like a little optimism and that he had tickets to the opening night performance of "Annie" for Broadway in Chicago. I had meant to get tickets to the show and I thought...this could be just what we need tonight.

We headed home so that Margot could get a good nap before the show.  I sat with Gunnar in his room, we both were unusually quiet when he asked me "How could Trump have won?" And it was at that time that I had heard that Hillary had won the popular vote so I tried to explain the electoral college to a six year old. I also explained that people are hurting and they are looking for someone to save them, they want someone to blame for how hard their life has been and Trump promised to give them what they wanted.  Gunnar took notes (no joke). Then he reported back to me what I had said...and it was pretty close. "Good, now I can tell my friends why it happened." My little reporter.

We sat in silence for a little longer.

"What are you thinking about bud?" no response.  "Are you sad?" He nodded and we cuddled. "You know what I like to do sometimes when I'm sad? I like to make a list of all the things I am grateful for...do you want to try that?" And he instantly perked up...the kid loves making lists.

Here's what he wrote:

Books
Mommy
Toys
School
Mrs. Wehrman (his teacher)
Friends
Family
Sven
Friends who live far away that we can visit

During that time I sent texts to some far away friends...checking in. It was a comfort to know they were feeling the same way even if state lines separate us. Gunnar and I read a chapter in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets while we waited for John to come home.  The "Me Me ME" about Gilderoy Lockhart really reminds me of our President Elect.

When John got home Margot still hadn't woken from her nap, she had slept for nearly three hours. When we tried to get her dressed to go, she threw one of the biggest tantrums I have seen to date. I believe part of that was from over-sleeping mixed with exhaustion and the other part was feeding off of our collective emotions of the day. It was her time to cry.

As we drove into the loop in downtown Chicago it was chaos. For some reason I forgot to consider the protest at the Trump Tower in my calculation of how long it would take to get to the theatre. My husband remained surprisingly calm at the wheel considering we were most certainly going to be late for the show. The protestors we saw were peaceful, helpful and hoping to receive validation. We responded with raised fists in solidarity and honked horns.

We arrived at the Theatre just moments before Annie sings "Tomorrow" for the first time, which we watched from a monitor in the lobby. I'd be lying if I told you I didn't immediately choke up.
"When I'm stuck with a day that's gray and lonely. I just lift up my chin and grin and Say: The Sun will come out Tomorrow bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow they'll be sun." The optimism was what we all needed to hear but we also knew in our hearts that the metaphoric tomorrow we must look to is at least two if not four years away.  And then that song followed by "We'd like to thank you Herbert Hoover" (the song in which the homeless of NYC satirically thank the former president for the promises he didn't keep and for causing the great depression) this hit way too close to home. The clashing energy in the room was palpable. 

The best reaction of the night came at the end of the show when the orphans run into the mansion and Annie introduces them to her new family and the children over enthusiastically greet them with "HELLO SO NICE TO MEET YOU!!!" and when she introduces them to the President their reaction is "Eh"....that was the moment that earned the most audible response from the audience, thunderous applause.  And even though that "Eh" would have been more appropriate for Herbert Hoover than FDR...for these orphans born at the peak of the depression, they understood that presidents have obligations to the people and the only president they had known up until now had failed them on every level. THAT felt like something everyone in the audience could attach to...whether they are Obama critics or devastated about the President Elect. 

The one song that is meant to bring joy at the end of the night failed me..."A New Deal for Christmas" was a good deal for the disenfranchised Americans of the depression era...but in my freshly wounded post election traumatized brain, I was hearing joyous singing about the Bigot who will replace the first African American and arguably one of the greatest Presidents of all time, and we get to have him just in time for Christmas "leapin' lizards!" P-U-K-E.

One phrase that was uplifting to hear and was repeated by FDR several times during the performance was "We have nothing to Fear but Fear itself." And every time this line was spoken on stage I heard a deep and soulful sister behind me echo the words as if she was in church on Sunday...and it felt right. Every time she repeated the phrase I wanted to shout "AMEN!" but I didn't, I lacked the courage. The highlight of my evening beyond the smiles of my thrilled children who loved the show, was meeting that woman's eyes on our way out of the theatre. I looked at her and she looked back at me cautiously, I held that strong compassionate focused gaze, the same one I had exercised earlier in the day, to let her know I was an ally.  It was then that she looked down and saw my "Women Together" pin. Her eyes came back up and met mine again and with a tear in her eye she gave me a smile to let me know that she understood what I was trying to communicate. I wanted to embrace her, but I didn't. I pray that God gives me the courage to follow through when I have that impulse again.

As we got back to the valet who brought us our car I was tickled that Gunnar thought to give him one of his Courage Cards before he ran off.  The valet was surprised, he laughed and kissed the card and said "I'm keeping this for good luck. Thank you kid. I needed this."

We spent the day spreading courage...but at the end of the day I realized that I need help finding the courage as much as anyone. I only hope I can embrace this challenge with the same attention and focus and passion as my soon-to-be-six-year-old son did today.